The Rhinoceros Fan is Broken

Buddha said, “This life is suffering or dissatisfying.” Trungpa Rinpoche said: “The center of our life is unrequited love.” I don’t know where I got: “Samsara is already broken.” They all point to the same thing. Life as we see it in its appearance is full of pain, loss, failure or blame. It’s built in to Life. The biggest built-in is that we, all of us without exception, will experience old age, illness and death. But there are many other losses built in to human life. As I’ve written before – Children leaving the nest, getting sick at just the wrong time, getting fired, having a failing business, getting a divorce, someone unexpectedly dying, these are all examples of”dukkha”. “Samsara is already broken” means that each event has within it; its own destruction or impermanence. In each moment, there is birth and destruction. Nothing in the form world escapes destruction. So what can we do with that? Where do we take refuge?

In the BOS koan 25, “The rhinoceros fan”, this theme of brokenness is again explored. The first part of the koan goes like this:

One day Yanguan called to his assistant, “Bring me the rhinoceros fan.”
The assistant said, “It is broken”

Yanguan said, “In that case, bring me the rhinoceros.

Oh, I love this! On the surface of life there is duality -broken and fixed. But so many things in this life cannot be fixed. Many deep things in life, we cannot fix. So what can we do? Where does our spiritual life lead us with things that cannot be fixed – with broken hearts that cannot be mended?

With our broken, unfixable hearts, we must find the rhinoceros. We must find the source that actually made the fan in the first place. This is when I say, we have to dig deeper and deeper in our selves to find the source of eternal life that doesn’t come and go, that doesn’t get broken, that is always, irrefutably, present in every moment. We have to find the “original person” that we are.

Sometimes our deepest suffering is what pushes us to dig even deeper into life and find that which is immutable. Can a person who has a deep loss recover? I think only if somehow they can let go of the surface stories of their life, and find the eternal source present in each moment, the beauty or mystery of life, and go on. This would be a spiritual recovery of sorts. That is not to say we won’t have scars. We have to love our scars as our humanity, and live out this precious human birth with as much dignity and compassion that we can muster in life’s unrequitedness. This is practice to me.

So how do we practice with this unrequitedness?

In the koan BOS #15 Yangshan plants his hoe, we are admonished to practice in the Temple of Requited Blessing. The temple of Requited Blessings is like finding the source, bringing the rhinoceros. It is the temple where the essence and the form of the moment meet. It is not in conventional reality that we find this blessing. You must see Buddha-nature in each and every moment of your life. Somehow, you can stand up in the dynamic functioning of each moment with awareness of the mystery.

This mystery is that the sacred and the ordinary arise together. Tiantong writes: We must remember the saying about South Mountain — engraved on the bones, inscribed on the skin, together requiting the blessing. Together, they can bring us relief.

Fadeng continues by saying:

“Ah, how many people past or present know the virtue of gratitude ?” …. That is why since I’ve grown old, I have lived here in this “Temple of Requiting Blessings”. There is much hard work to do each day. Whom do you do it for?”

We lead our life and accept our sorrows for the whole world. We don’t know exactly whom we do it for. But life is our obligation and blessing to live and we have to find a way to connect with the source in order to live in its blessing.

Katagiri wrote:

Entering the mud, entering the water
A bodhisattva enters this moment of life
Going into delusions
Paying attention to the delusion
And figuring out what each delusion needs to be taking care of with respect.
Each moment, each thing, each person
Is an expression of eternity or the source of life
And we can see and treat them this way.